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New Frontiers in Business Intelligence

Nari Kannan

Compute BI when Needed! Microstrategy and ROLAP may prove a better way to do BI!

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Relational Online Application Processing or ROLAP seemed like an inefficient way to do Business Intelligence when MicroStrategy got started in 1989!

Here is an interesting demo from MicroStrategy showing how ROLAP can do things on the fly:


However increases in processor, memory, and hard disk speeds and steep fall in unit prices of those are finally proving that their approach may be very timely after all!

ROLAP has always taken the rap for a long time that calculating certain components of Business Intelligence, as and when needed, may be a very inefficient way to do Business Intelligence.

MOLAP (Multi-dimensional OLAP) on the other hand, as found in Cognos, Business Objects, etc created multi-dimensional cubes and kept them all updated as and when transactions are processed.  

For example, let's say you have Point of Sale data and you need different reports ordered by different orders of analysis like:

  • Product Sales by SKU, Category and Product Line
  • Product Sales by SKU, Zone, Region and Division
  • Product Sales by SKU, Sales Person, Sales Manager, Regional Manager

Typical ROLAP approaches as followed by MicroStrategy could compute these from the original POS database at run-time. Of course, in some cases, you may need to create temporary tables when you have huge numbers of transactions even in MicroStrategy, but nothing compared to MOLAP ones.

MOLAP approaches would create different dimensions like SKU, Category, Product Line, Zone, Sales Person, Sales Manager, etc and keep all of their totals updated in real-time, all the time. Of Course, some of them may have hierarchies within the dimensions also. SKU-Category-ProductLine, StoreLocation-City-Zone-Region-Division could be another. They require their own totals also. If the dimensions increase, computing time may also increase exponentially. Updating the cubes, and querying the cubes, could all get more and more complex with the addition of every additional dimension.

MOLAP made more sense when computing was much more expensive.

Now if you can have 1000 times the processing power at 100th the cost as compared to 1989, ROLAP makes more sense!

Now there is an even more compelling need NOT to  create complicated, pre-designed, somewhat inflexible, data warehouses with many, many dimensions, since a lot of the users these days want flexibility in their reporting!

Users want to specify reports as and when they need them and additional ones to be created quickly.

This is where ROLAP truly comes into fore - flexible, on-demand reporting!

Another area wher ROLAP increasingly is very good is handling many data sources from many heterogenous environments where you don't know upfront what data you are getting and what the structure of the data would be.

Every corporate environment is dealing with this issue with increasing integration between information systems of various companies - My Logistics being integrated with UPS or Fedex. Or healthcare claims information being passed on electronically between various related companies.

How do you do BI when your data structures are not known ahead of time and changes from period to period?

ROLAP may be a better answer. Now you can see why a lot of companies may have created huge data warehouses that by the time, they are ready, are already obsolete!

MicroStrategy may have had the right answer for a long time!

Now is a gift. That's why it's called the Present - Anonymous


Nari Kannan's blog explores how new approaches to business intelligence can help organizations improve the performance of business processes--whether these processes are creative or operational, internally-focused or customer-facing, intra-departmental or across functions.

Nari Kannan

Nari Kannan started and serves as the CEO of appsparq, a Mobile Applications development company based in Louisville, KY with offices in Singapore and India. Nari has over two decades of experience in computer systems development, translating product and service strategy into meaningful technology solutions, and both people and product development. Prior to this, he has served as both Chief Technology Officer and Vice President- Engineering in six successful startups, two of which he co-founded. He has proven experience in building companies, engineering teams, and software solutions from scratch in the United States and India. Prior to this, Nari started Ajira Technologies, Inc., in Pleasanton, CA, where he served as Chief Executive Officer for more than six years. While at Ajira, Nari was instrumental in developing service process management solutions that modeled, monitored, and analyzed business processes, initially targeting the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Telecom, and Banking verticals in India, and Finance, Insurance, and Healthcare verticals in the United States. Prior to this, he served as VP-Engineering at Ensenda, an ASP for local delivery services. He also served variously as Chief Technology Officer or VP-Engineering at other Bay-Area venture funded startups such as Kadiri and Ensera. He began his career at Digital Equipment Corporation as a Senior Software Engineer. Nari has a long involvement with Customer Support and other customer facing processes. At Digital Equipment Corporation he was involved with their 1800 person customer support center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He was tasked with coming up with innovative tools to help customer support people do their jobs better. He holds a U.S patent for a software invention that automatically redirected email requests for customer support to the right group by digesting the contents of the request and guessing at which software or hardware support group is best equipped to handle it. At Ensera, he led a 45 person team in developing an internet based ASP service for handling auto insurance claims, coordinating information flow between end-customers, Insurance companies, Repair shops and Parts suppliers. Ensera was acquired by Mitchell Corporation in San Diego. Nari holds a B.S. degree in Physics from Loyola College, and an M.B.A degree from the University of Madras in Madras, India. He graduated with a M.S. degree in Computer Science from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1985. Contact Information: Nari Kannan. Email: nari@appsparq.com Mobile: 925 353 0197. Website: www.appsparq.com View more .


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